What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, is an overuse injury that causes lower leg pain. This problem is the cause in 18% of running injuries and is 2-3 more prevalent in women than men. Shin splints are primarily caused by a mismatch between overload and recovery during weight bearing exercise. High-stress impact loading during running or walking places an increased stress on the lower leg bone (tibia). When this stress increases gradually the bone strengthens in order to handle the load. Shin splints occur when the body’s ability to strengthen the bone is not able to keep up with the stress being placed on the bone. This imbalance of bone strengthening and stress causes small cracks in the bone and inflammation of the surrounding tissue.
The pain from shin splints can be classified into 4 stages in order of severity:
Light pain or stiffness after working out.Pain at the beginning of a work-out which disappears during the warm-up.
Pain during the work-out, but also after the workout and during the night. The pain subsides after long rest and inactivity.
Constant pain. The pain does not disappear after rest.
What Mechanical Factors Contribute to Shin Splints?
- Excessive flattening (pronation) of the feet when walking or running.
- Tight calf muscles.
- Weak ankle stabilizer muscles (soleus, flexor digitorum longus, posterior tibialis).
- Walking or running on hard surfaces.
- Walking or running in old shoes.
What is the Preferred Treatment for Shin Splints?
- Superfeet are an inexpensive orthotics option.
- Rest (The amount of rest depends on the stage above).
- Anti-inflammatory medication (prescribed by a medical doctor).Orthotics to support the arch of your foot and decrease the flattening of your feet.
- Make sure you shoes are not too old (running shoes should be replaced every 300-600 miles).
- Run or walk on softer surfaces such as dirt.
- Increase the endurance of your ankle muscles with these exercises.
- Stretch your calf muscles.
- Cross-train to give your body a break from high-stress impact loading (cycling and swimming are great choices for maintaining aerobic fitness while resting the injury).
When you are ready to resume training, gradually increase your duration and intensity so that the bones can keep up. Prevent recurrence by instituting rest weeks into your training (We recommend an active rest week of 1/2 your usual training duration and intensity every 4th week).
If you live in the Denver or Lakewood, CO area and would like help treating or preventing shin splints give us a call at (303) 274-2404. If you do not live in our area and have more questions about this or any other orthopedic problem please contact us and we would be glad to help.